The Diviners (play)

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The Diviners is a play by Jim Leonard, Jr. It takes place in the fictional town of Zion, Indiana during the 1930s/Great Depression era. The play was originally developed with assistance from the American College Theatre Festival and originally performed by the Hanover College Theatre Group in 1980.[1] The play later received its first professional production with the Circle Repertory Company in 1980.[1]


The play begins and ends with elegies spoken by two of the townspeople describing what happened the day of Buddy's tragedy. The body of the play is the memory of the time leading to the climactic event. Buddy is searching (divining) for water for the local farmer, Basil. Luella, Basil's wife, refuses to believe that the boy can find water.

Set in the early days of the Depression in a small southern Indiana town named Zion, Buddy Layman is a mentally-challenged boy whose sweet nature touches most people he meets. One day a stranger and retired preacher, C.C. Showers, passes through Zion looking for work and food. C.C. takes an immediate liking to Buddy and vice versa. C.C. is able to relate to Buddy in ways that most people aren't. The two become close friends and C.C. soon finds himself as Buddy's mentor and teacher. Jennie Mae, Buddy's sister, is attracted to C.C., and though he likes her, Jennie Mae isn't the only single girl near Zion that finds C.C. a catch of a man. The town’s dry goods owner has her eye set on bringing old-fashioned revival to the community. The local diner owner would love to see the church rebuilt – and all the Sunday customers it would bring to her establishment. CC’s relationship with the people of the town changes drastically when they learned that he was a former preacher who has given up preaching. That knowledge changes everything and leads to a horrible tragedy. The dry goods owner, despite C.C. trying to tell her multiple times that he's done with preaching for good, is adamant that C.C. will rebuild the town church and bring back traditions of worship service and songs on Sundays and Wednesdays. She leads the town in singing hymns when C.C. tries to help cure Buddy of his aquaphobia and the ringworm that has gotten into his feet, believing that he is actually baptizing Buddy. While C.C. is trying to explain to the still singing townspeople that he isn't doing a baptism, Buddy walks further downstream, when he is pulled under and drowns. The play is bookended by the funeral of Buddy Layman, with the farmer and farm hand recounting their experiences as Buddy dies.

A “slice of life” play, The Diviners, takes the viewers intimately close to the main characters :

  • CC Showers – having a crisis of faith and purpose
  • Buddy – who can mysteriously “feel” when water is near, yet fears it to the point of phobia.
  • Ferris – A single father trying to raise two challenging kids in the depression.
  • Jennie Mae – forced to grow-up too soon, facing normal coming of age feelings
  • Townspeople who each have a point of view and, in their desire to achieve what they believe to be righteous and true, cause distraction and calamity.


  • Buddy Layman: A boy who has the special gift to find water and is very curious yet frightened when learning about different things. He suffered brain damage from his previous drowning accident and lost his mother in the same accident.
  • C.C. Showers: A former preacher battling his own demons who befriends the boy. He and Jennie Mae have an attraction that ends as quickly as it begins due to major age differences.
  • Ferris Layman: Buddy's father and local mechanic. He is short tempered and hesitant to do anything that might cause his son anguish, even if it is for his own good.
  • Jennie Mae Layman:Buddy's patient and caring sister. She fills the maternal role of her family. She has a crush on the preacher.
  • Basil Bennett: A farmer who relies on Buddy's abilities and is an amateur doctor. He is the one who diagnoses Buddy's problems. He is married to Luella.
  • Luella Bennett: Basil's wife who doubts Buddy's abilities.
  • Norma Henshaw: The owner of the Dry Goods Store. She wants the church back in Zion. She thinks the preacher's arrival is a sign from God.
  • Goldie Short: The owner of the Dine Away Cafe. Agrees with Norma about C.C.'s arrival.
  • Darlene Henshaw: Norma's niece. Imaginative and charismatic. She has a rebellious streak that fights her Aunt's rules but loves her Aunt. She sneaks off to dance with Dewey.
  • Melvin Wilder: Basil's farmhand who helps Dewey ask Darlene out to the dance. He is older and takes Dewey under his wing. He teaches Dewey to be "suave".
  • Dewey Maples: Basil's farmhand who doesn't love Darlene or nothin. He is young and naive. He looks to Melvin as his "older brother."


Because the play takes place in a religious town, much religious music is incorporated in the script and could be used as background music. Some songs listed in the play include the following:

Production History[edit]

  • American College Theatre Festival, Washington, DC, 1980[2]
  • Circle Repertory, New York City, 1980
  • New Playwrights' Theatre, Washington, DC, 1981[3]
  • Mountain Avenue Theatre, Ashland OR, 2017[4]


  1. ^ a b Jim Leonard (Jr.) (June 1983). The diviners: a play in two acts and elegies. Samuel French, Inc. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-573-60837-7. Retrieved 10 August 2011. [not in citation given]
  2. ^ James, Lardner. "Fresh 'Diviners'". Retrieved 15 April 2016. 
  3. ^ Lardner, James. "'Diviners': Folk Tale of Midwest". Retrieved 15 April 2016. 
  4. ^ Jefferson Public Radio. "'Ashland High School's Production of: The Diviners". Retrieved 28 October 2017. 

See also[edit]